Latvala edged out of Jordan win in world rallying's closest finish
Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team's Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila missed a dramatic victory in the Jordan Rally by just 0.2sec today after the closest finish in world rallying history. They held a slender 0.5sec lead in their Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car ahead of the final desert speed test on the shores of the Dead Sea, but were edged into second by the smallest winning margin in FIA World Rally Championship history.
It hurts when you fight so hard and lose by such a small margin.
Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen finished fourth in another Fiesta RS WRC. In an equally enthralling conclusion to this fourth round of the championship, they took runners-up bonus points after claiming second fastest time in that final special stage – just 0.046sec behind the winner.
The previous closest rally result came in 2007 when Ford's Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen won Rally New Zealand by 0.3sec. The result here means Ford Abu Dhabi is tied for the lead in the manufacturers' world championship. Hirvonen lies second in the drivers' standings, just two points from top spot, with Latvala in fourth, just eight points from the lead.
The rally was shortened to two days after a 24-hour delay caused by the late arrival of teams' equipment. The ferry transporting the cargo from Trieste in Italy to Haifa in Israel was initially delayed in departing, and then broke down twice en route before finally having to wait outside the port to dock while bad weather subsided.
Competitors tackled 14 stages covering 259.56km, most of which was below sea level. Temperatures topped 30ºC and the heat and the hard, gravel desert tracks posed a tough challenge for drivers, cars and tyres. However, Michelin's new construction tyres were equal to the challenge and neither Latvala nor Hirvonen collected any punctures on the rock-strewn roads.
Latvala ended yesterday in third, after sacrificing 20sec and second position by slowing on the final stage to ensure better road conditions today. His gamble looked to be paying off as he benefited this morning from roads swept clean of gravel by the two cars ahead. He slashed the overnight 33.1sec deficit with three fastest times and moved ahead on the penultimate test, before the last stage drama.
"It was a fantastic way for the rally to finish but I'm so disappointed to lose out," said the 26-year-old Finn. "It hurts when you fight so hard and lose by such a small margin. I made a few small mistakes on the final stage but I had no option to attack as hard as I could. I took big risks all day, and it nearly paid off. My heart was pounding on several occasions because I almost hit big rocks.
"This was my fourth consecutive podium and they are valuable points. The car's performance was great all weekend and it's given me plenty of confidence for the next few gravel events," he added.
Hirvonen dropped more than two minutes yesterday after starting first on the slippery gravel tracks, and then driving with broken power steering on the final stage. The 30-year-old Finn ended the day out of the victory battle in fifth, but climbed to fourth after setting two fastest times this morning. He then claimed runners-up bonus points in the final stage.
"I tried to look after my tyres so that I had maximum grip for the Power Stage," he said. "I thought I had done enough to take full bonus points, but lost by a few hundredths of a second. It was a difficult weekend because I spent so many kilometres yesterday sweeping the road, but I'm pleased to have come out of it in a strong position in the championship. Two fastest times gave me a good boost and showed that the pace of the car is extremely strong."
Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr finished eighth in the third Fiesta RS WRC. The Abu Dhabi driver felt comfortable in conditions similar to his native country and said: "It was a tough rally. I tried to find a good pace and stay at that speed throughout the weekend, and my plan worked well. It wasn't an easy surface to drive on, and I had a few lucky escapes," said Al Qassimi.
Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson shared Latvala's emotions. "I can't imagine his disappointment after fighting so hard. It was the closest finish ever in a world rally and we showed great pace all weekend, setting seven fastest times. It's a good confidence boost for the team because we know the Fiesta RS WRC has the pace to win on gravel."
Ford of Europe motorsport director Gerard Quinn paid tribute to the team's behind-the-scenes personnel. "After the late arrival of the equipment, our team members performed miracles in setting up the service park so quickly and ensuring we were ready to start the rally on time. Many worked throughout the night with no rest, before staying on throughout the next day also. I would like to thank them for their hard work and the role they played in such an exciting rally," he said.
News from other Ford teams
M-Sport Stobart Ford's Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin finished fifth in a Fiesta RS WRC. Team-mates Mads Østberg and Jonas Andersson were 13th and Henning Solberg and Ilka Minor finished 14th. Both finished under SupeRally rules after retiring yesterday. Munchi's Ford World Rally Team's Federico Villagra and Jose Perez Companc were seventh, while Dennis Kuipers and Bjorn Degandt were ninth for the FERM Power tools team. In the SWRC support category, Portugal's Bernardo Sousa and Antonio Costa took victory in a Ford Fiesta S2000 and finished 10th overall.
Round five of the series takes competitors to the island of Sardinia for the all-gravel Rally d'Italia Sardegna, which is based in Olbia on 5 - 8 May. After the transport delays in reaching Jordan, Ford Abu Dhabi's equipment will journey to Sardinia via a revised route. Transporters will depart by road early tomorrow for Haifa in Israel, via the Jordan River border crossing, and onto Ashdod. They will leave there by commercial ferry tomorrow night and arrive in Salerno, southern Italy, three days later. A new boat will then take the equipment to Cagliari in southern Sardinia, where it will remain for a week before completing the journey to Olbia by road. The cars will return to M-Sport's Dovenby Hall base by air to be prepared before departing for Sardinia.